This Day in History: Gerald Ford survives an assassination attempt
On this day in 1975, Gerald Ford survives an assassination attempt. It was the second such attempt in less than a month.
Oddly, both of the attempts were made by women: Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore. Fromme and Moore are the only two women in our history who have ever attempted to assassinate an American President. Kind of odd that both instances occurred with Ford, isn’t it?
Another odd coincidence: Both attacks occurred in California. Ford was then spending a lot of time in the state because he anticipated a tough presidential election contest the following year.
The first assassination attempt came in Sacramento on September 5. Ford was slated to give a talk to state legislators, and he was walking the short distance from his hotel to the California State Capitol building.
Squeaky Fromme was in the crowd that had gathered to shake Ford’s hand. She carried a pistol in a holster on her leg, under a long flowing skirt. When she was only a few feet away, she aimed the gun at him and fired. But there was no bullet in the chamber! (The gun did have a loaded magazine.) She didn’t get a chance at another shot because a Secret Service agent leaped in and grabbed the weapon.
Some observers reported that Ford looked shocked, and his face drained of color. (Well, who wouldn’t respond that way?!) Nevertheless, he continued on and kept his appointment at the California State Capitol.
The motives of the would-be assassin were muddled. Some even claimed that she didn’t really intend to harm the President. After all, the chamber of the gun was empty. (Others said she was just incompetent and didn’t realize that she needed to chamber a bullet.) At least part of the incident is explained by her allegiance to Charles Manson and his pro-Earth agenda. She later explained to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram: “I stood up and waved a gun (at Ford) for a reason. I was so relieved not to have to shoot it, but, in truth, I came to get life. Not just my life but clean air, healthy water and respect for creatures and creation.”
A mere 17 days later, another woman made a second attempt. On September 22, Moore was standing outside San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel, waiting for Ford. When the President emerged, she fired on him from about 40 feet away. Moore’s gun was loaded—and she did have a bullet in the chamber. Fortunately, a former Marine was standing nearby and struck her arm at the last minute. The bullet whizzed by Ford’s head, just missing him.
“I did it to create chaos,” she said at the time. But many decades later, she’d changed her mind. She told the TODAY show that had been “mistaken,” “misled,” and “used.” “This is going to sound a little strange,” she said, “but I really thought that it would trigger a new revolution. We were saying the country needed to change, the only way it was going to change was a violent revolution. I genuinely thought that this might trigger that new revolution in this country.”
In the end, both women were sentenced to life in prison. Both were released on parole after several decades in jail.
Poor Ford! He never asked for any of this, remember? He landed in the White House because of the sins of both his predecessors. Some thanks he got?!?
Gerald DeMarco, Attempted Ford assassin: ‘I think it was wrong,’ TODAY.com (May 28, 2009)
Larry J. Sabato, The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy (2013)
Michael Newton, Famous Assassinations in World History: An Encyclopedia (Vol. 1) (2014)
Ronald L. Feinman, Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (2015)
Stephen Spignesi, In the Crosshairs: Famous Assassinations and Attempts from Julius Caesar to John Lennon (2004)